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Ford workers find a future

Moving on: Ford’s efforts to help its redundant factory workers have been more successful than hoped, with internal and external job creation programs bearing fruit for many.

Rapid rise of Ford vehicle development eases job pain for 157 factory workers

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Ford logo1 Oct 2016

By RON HAMMERTON

MORE than 150 Ford Australia manufacturing workers who were facing a bleak future with the end of local Ford vehicle production on Friday have found employment salvation in the company’s burgeoning vehicle development operation.

Employed mainly as support staff for the 1500-strong design and engineering team working on future models such as the next Ranger and Everest for global markets, the workers have been progressively making the jump across the company divide since the closure of Ford vehicle manufacturing in Australia was announced in 2013.

Almost 100 have already been transferred into roles such as electricians, trainers, prototype builders and maintenance workers, but a further 60 are set to make the move once the plants in Victoria finally fall silent for the last time after 91 years and more than three million vehicles.

Some have even signed up as mature-age apprentice motor mechanics to maintain their employment by spinning the spanners on Ford’s big fleet of secret development and prototype vehicles at Ford Asia-Pacific’s three engineering centres, in Broadmeadows, Lara and Geelong.

About 740 workers still face redundancy from the manufacturing plants at Broadmeadows and Geelong, of which 660 will clock off forever this week.

A further 80 will continue on until June next year to help decommission the plants. These will include electricians charged with disconnecting machines to make them safe to be moved for sale or scrap.

Ford Australia insists both internal and external job creation programs have exceeded expectations, potentially generating more jobs than redundant workers.

Ford Australia communications and public affairs director Wes Sherwood told GoAuto that Ford’s $10 million investment in the Victorian government’s job-creation program had yielded nearly twice as many job commitments in Geelong and Broadmeadows as Ford redundancies.

He said these commitments from more than 50 businesses were not necessarily direct jobs for Ford employees but part of the goal to create additional economic activity in these communities as the plants close.

“Ford and the government’s jobs fairs in the past few years also have presented many opportunities, including the recent Broadmeadows fair with more than 1000 jobs on offer,” he said.

Employees who spoke with GoAuto ahead of the plant closure said the job-creation programs have prevented – as one described it – “a tsunami” of unemployed workers once the factories closed.

One of the lucky ones to make the transfer from manufacturing to vehicle development, electrician Daniel Wilson, said he will have mixed emotions when the plants close on October 7.

Now an electrical process coach – a form of supervisor overseeing a team of electricians at the Geelong research and development centre – Mr Wilson said he would be sad to see the end of Falcon and Territory after so long.

However, he said he would also celebrate the growing commitment by Ford in vehicle development – the future of Ford in Australia.

Another Geelong employee, HR learning and development facilitator Terry McKiernan, said that at the age of 62 and with 45 years with the company, the closure came at a good time for him.

He said he was now looking forward to semi-retirement, “seeing what sort of part-time work is around”, along with some volunteering.

“I see myself as a bit fortunate, being the age I am,” he said. “It would have been great to do a couple more years, but I am happy that it has happened now.”

An employee who has already made the jump from Ford to pursue another career is former robotics engineer Luke McSeveney.

Always a committed Christian, Mr McSeveney took a redundancy package from the Geelong plant to train as a Presbyterian pastor by studying theology in Melbourne.

He said Ford had helped to facilitate his exit from the company in early 2014.

“They (Ford) have done an honourable job, with the timing, training and helping to find new jobs,” he said. “The slow release of people has meant there is not as great an impact as there could have been.”

Once employing more than 5000 people in Geelong when Ford was building more than 500 vehicles a day, Ford now has just 300 workers facing redundancy in that city where it started building Model Ts in a disused wool store in 1925.

However, its vehicle production teams at Geelong and Lara still make Ford one of the bigger employers in the area, with hundreds of workers – many of them highly skilled engineers and technicians – on the payroll.

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